Saturday, May 3, 2014

Be SMART When Setting Goals

Springtime often brings goals for losing weight, eating healthier, getting in shape for summer sports and activities....etc.  But, we are not always very successful with our goals and we are rarely successful at maintaining them.  Why?  There is something missing from our understanding of how the brain works, I believe.  So, even though we can make some changes, we often go back to old ways.  This isn't about willpower, this is about being SMART.

SMART is a pretty well known acronym to help set a format for goal setting. S is for Specific. M is for Measurable. A is for Attainable. R is for Relevant. T is for Time.  Let's take each one individually and do this right!

Be SPECIFIC.  Usually, we have a pretty good handle on where we are - for example, I can run 1 mile, I am 40 pounds over weight, I have $330 in savings.  We also have a good handle on what we want - I want to run 26.2 miles, I want to weigh 135 pounds, I want to have $950 in savings for my trip.  What is lacking and really important are the steps in between.  This is the part that needs to be specific.  It is also the part that teaches us and our brains the process of being successful.  The step by step process toward the goal acclimates the brain toward change and eases the body and mind in the direction of change.

It is important to focus less on the ultimate goal and more on the next specific step in the process toward the goal.  Using the goal - maybe an image on your mirror as a motivator can help fire up the emotions, but long term changes come from the step by step process on the way to the goal.  Here's how:  set specific weekly actions that are completely do-able, but ease you in the right direction.  Say going up 1/2 mile each week, losing 1 lb. per week, putting aside $10 each week.  Get specific about where that $10 is coming form, about how to decrease calories consumed or increase calories used, etc.

Make the goals MEASURABLE.  There has to be a way for you to show your brain you are there.  A way to celebrate and pat yourself on the back with each small step you make toward your goal.  The brain is firmly set in wanting to stay as things were.  It needs you to show it with each step in the right direction that this is it!  This is going to be great!  We need to keep going and never look back!  With each measurable step, celebrate, make a big deal of your success, stimulate that reward center with something that lets the brain begin to connect to this goal.

Make your goal ATTAINABLE.  The small steps along the way are going to help.  Be real here.  It is silly to force yourself on a journey toward a goal that doesn't serve your life in a positive way.  Don't set yourself up for failure.  If setting aside $50 a week makes you feel like you have to give too much up, you will fight your own goal.  If you ask your body to exercise too much, you will get injured and feel miserable.  Set yourself up for success!

Make sure the goal is RELEVANT.  A good example of a non-relevant goal is going on a quick fix diet.  If the diet is not sustainable, why bother?  A sustainable diet is one you can stay on FOREVER and maintain the healthy weight.  A relevant fitness goal sets you up for an event, yes, but then also sets you up for a healthy fitness lifestyle after the event.  The event is no longer the motivation, feeling great physically is.  Relevancy also helps the brain make connections that make the whole process easier, no matter what your goal.  The brain gets better through practice.  It also gets better when it can take something new and make it fit in with something old.  Making connections creates a higher level of success.

Be TIME-specific.  It is great to set this up with weekly achievements which then lead to monthly achievements which then lead to longer term goals!  Where will you be at each time juncture?  Now, one problem with time specifics is what happens when your goal at a certain date and time does happen?  Maybe there was an emergency fix needed on the car and you had to dip into the savings?  Or, an injury prevents certain training goals?  Then, reset.  Don't give up!  Life is not a perfect linear march to success.  When it becomes necessary to say, uh oh this is not possible as planned, then reset your time goals and get back on track.

Sometimes it is helpful to get some objective assistance and motivation for goal-setting.  Find yourself some support, someone to help with your plan, someone to help you celebrate, cheer you on.  Make this fun.  If it is torture and drudgery, it is only a temporary quick fix.  Long term goals require a good plan, steady, progress, rewards and fun!

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